I wanted to see the Northern Lights. It’s been a lifelong dream to watch those ribbons shift and twist along a timeless sky, and though we missed them this time, we discovered a wealth of other interesting things instead.
None of the documentaries we watched or books we read prepared me for such a dramatic landscape where waves crash over stone walls meant to protect quiet fishing villages with colorful buildings, where retired anchors as large as whales rest beside the ocean, where the earth boils beneath you and freezes around you, and ground that feels solid is always slowly moving and churning in geologic time.
Early inhabitants of Iceland thought they’d found the gates to hell. Without any science to explain lightening cutting through the sky as volcanoes erupt and earthquakes shake and steam hisses over hills, I can understand why they felt that way, but there was something energizing about being part of such a pulsating landscape where quiet moss grows over black volcanic rock and the undeniable smell of sulfur catches you by surprise. It felt a little like finding the heart of the earth.
We based ourselves in Reykjavik for four days and took day trips to Vik, the Myrdalsjokull glacier, and the Golden Circle. We snorkeled between tectonic plates at Pingvellir National Park (silfra), home of Iceland’s first Parliament, and tried everything from minke whale to hakarl and skyr.
|The Blue Lagoon|
Even though it was cold, raining, windy, and even hailed for several minutes, that only seemed to enhance the experience of floating in a man-made geothermal pool.
|Icelandic horses along the Golden Circle.|
These horses were all too willing to visit us by their fence for a little while. We found them on the drive from Reykjavik to Vik, but they’re easy to spot almost anywhere along the Golden Circle in the spring. In the spirit of extreme Icelandic tradition, horses who leave the country are never allowed to return.
|The base of the Myrdalsjokull glaicer.|
Spring green open space faded into rocky, snow dusted fields on our way to the Myrdalsjokull glacier, only a short distance from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano that erupted in 2010.
|The highest point of the Myrdalsjokull glacier with a view of the ocean.|
I doubt I’ll make it to the moon in this lifetime, but it certainly felt like we did on the Myrdalsjokull glacier.
|Black sand beaches in Vik, just two and a half hours from Reykjavik.|
This may look like a black and white picture, but it’s actually in color. If you listen carefully on this beach, you’ll hear stones hitting against one another when the waves come in.
We stopped at Pingvellir National Park, Gulfoss Waterfall, Geysir, and Kerio Crater along the Golden Circle, all of which are well marked and easy to find without GPS.
|Geothermal activity near the village of Hveragerði.|
There’s a school and church in the small town of Hveragerði, playgrounds, restaurants, a gym, teenagers walking down the sidewalk with backpacks, everything you’d expect to find in any suburban small town, and of course, steam vents. It’s also home to a geothermally heated river, a forty-five minute hike from the parking area.
Next time we’d like to drive the Ring Road in a camper and hike along the way, staying for a little longer than just four days, and even that might not feel like enough time…
I came across this quote recently from one of the Icelandic Saga’s and thought it summed up the experience of Iceland well.
“Who has ever wandered through such forests, in a length of many miles, in a boundless expanse, without a path, without a goal, amid their monstrous shadows, their sacred gloom, without being filled with deep reverence for the sublime greatness of Nature above all human agency, without feeling the grandeur of the idea which forms the basis of Vidar’s essence?” ― Snorri Sturluson, The Viking Anthology: Norse Myths, Icelandic Sagas and Viking Chronicles